Theater preview: 4 generations of farmworkers come to life in Madera Theatre Project’s ‘Harvest Moon’
Madera Theatre Project is following its inaugural production of “Beauty and the Beast” with a smaller, non-musical offering: Jose Cruz Gonzalez’s “Harvest Moon.” It’s directed by Elena Navarrette, a drama teacher at Matilda Torres High School in Madera and a graduate of Fresno State, where she specialized in theater for young audiences. Sixteen years ago, she had the opportunity to hear Gonzalez speak, and he mentioned “Harvest Moon.” She tucked it away as a possible title.
“When he mentioned the story evolved around field workers and a mural coming to life, that image has lived in the back of my mind,” she says. “I think I was just waiting for the right moment and the right community to find to help tell the story.”
“Harvest Moon” opens Thursday, July 7, and continues its run at the Matilda Torres High School theater through July 16. I caught up with Navarrette via email to talk about this opportunity to direct the show.
Q: “Harvest Moon” is about four generations of farmworkers. Tell us a little about the matriarch of the family.
A: Yes! Mariluz’s strength is inherited from watching her parents and grandparents live through the Chicano movement. She sees her parents’ struggle to support their family, struggle to sustain a happy marriage, and from that, carries on these experiences and family history through her art. Ultimately it is Mariluz’s art that passes the family’s legacy on to her son, Cuahetemoc.
Q: Is the play told in a chronological order, or are there flashbacks?
A: Great question!!! I would say that it is fair to refer to Harvest Moon as a type of memory play. Much of the story is told through Mariluz ‘memory of her life growing up working in the field alongside her elders. As Mariluz becomes ill, in her adulthood, the memories evolve into a type of fever dream.
Q: If you had to describe “Harvest Moon” in just three words, what would they be?
A: Ancestral agricultural memory.
Q: Where is the play set? How similar is that setting to Madera?
A: It’s set in Mariluz’s mind! But, the memories and emotions relayed in the story very much reflect sentiments of many in the Madera community. Much of the rehearsal process included conversations amongst the cast and crew, as the script prompted us to retell our own stories of working in the fields alongside our tios and tias, parents, grandparents. Some of the production members are currently splitting their time between rehearsals AND working in the fields at present.
Q: Tell us about your own background in theater.
A: Oh boy… I got the bug in grade school, like most theater people. Growing up I lived not too far from Roosevelt School of the Arts. So my parents very much took advantage of taking me to see the plays and concerts there. I then did all the plays in high school. So, by the time I entered college, there was no question what I would study. I dove deep into TFYA at Fresno State! I come from a long line of educators, so studying theater while earning my teaching credential was an easy decision. My goal was to always become a Drama teacher. This is why the Madera Theatre Project is so THE dream for me.
Q: What more can you tell me about the playwright?
A: He is a Latinx writer. I was actually first introduced to his work because of the many children’s theater shows he has written. In fact, I believe most of his accolades are for his work in children’s theatre. But his inclusion of magical realism is what sets him apart. He knows how to pull on your heartstrings through this combination of magic, culture, and great storytelling.
Q: The central San Joaquin Valley is a major agricultural area, of course, but for people who aren’t involved in the industry, many go through their daily lives unaware of ag’s importance and impact. What do you hope audiences learn about the farmworker experience?
A: We want to leave audiences with a sense of curiosity. A sense of wanting to learn more. An urgency to ask questions and help provide a voice to the voiceless. We are living in such delicate times right now that I think leading the audience to feel inspired to celebrate differences and listen to stories told from those who we often don’t hear is a change we hope to be part of.
Q: The storyline involves a mural. Is that something you recreate in a literal sense on stage?
A: Yes and no. But that’s all I’ll tell you! You’ll just need to come and see it for it all to make sense.